Sholing v AFC Totton: Russell Cotes Cup 1st Round

30 Oct

Sholing Totton

Although I’d put it in my diary and cleared it in advance with the other half an hour to go until kick-off I was trying to come up with excuses not to go; I felt a spot of rain, it’ll be too cold, it’ll be two reserve teams playing in a competition no one wants to win anyway…..

Paradoxically this last excuse is the reason why I decided to go in the first place. Not to see a reserve team, but to get up close to one of Hampshire football’s most unfancied cup tournaments, the Russell Cotes Cup. I’ve developed something of a fascination with the kind of tournaments no one loves; To me they’re a little like derelict, or semi-derelict buildings which hide often long and rich histories, yielding up stories to those curious enough to poke around.

The history of the Russell Cotes has become more obscured than most. Whilst the Hampshire Senior Cup has a Wikipedia page featuring a list of winners stretching back to the first final – won by Woolston Works in 1888 – there is no such page for the Russell Cotes. Both Google and the website of the Hampshire Football Association fails to yield any further clues so it is pure speculation on my part that the cup has some kind of connection to the one-time prominent Bournemouth resident Merton Russell-Cotes. In its time it was also piece of silverware which had some status and in 1983 formed the final piece of the glorious trinity for a Sholing based team of the past, Sholing Sports, when they defeated Waterlooville in the final, having already won the Hampshire League and Senior Cup.

These days the contest carries rather less prestige. In 2014 cup-holders Gosport Borough withdrew at the quarter-final stage after being told they could not use on-loan players whilst that same year finalists Farnborough were removed from the competition for fielding players who did not have a senior team registration, leading to the re-instatement of the team they defeated in the semi-final, AFC Portchester, who promptly went on to win the cup.

Ahead of this evenings game Sholing manager Dave Diaper had telephoned his opposite number to tell him he would be fielding a team of youngsters with a smattering of fringe players and first-teamers – In fact no fewer than five Sholing players would be making their first-team debuts.

The call which Diaper said he had made out of courtesy appeared not to have influenced Steve Hollick’s selection as Southern league Totton arrived with a strong side. It was little surprise then that Totton took the game to their hosts sustaining the pressure throughout the first half hour. The Sholing kids defended valiantly, but the Stags eventually got their reward on 31 minutes when a Sholing defender appeared to be suckered into making a foul in a dangerous position and the subsequent free-kick was duly headed in.

It was a surprise though that come half time that Sholing were 2-1 up with two goals against the run of play; first a cross-cum-shot which eluded the Totton ‘keeper and the second the result of a piece of penalty area slapstick from the Totton goalkeeper and one of his defenders with Sholing’s Lukas Sabo being the grateful recipient.

In the second half things were a little different and Sholing, who had lacked fluidity going forward in the first half, looked a much more dangerous proposition as they looked to put the increasingly ragged visitors to the sword. Sholing’s third came soon after the re-start when a slick through ball left James Davis one-on-one with the Totton ‘keeper. With the goal sparking a civil war among the Totton back line, it was clear from this point there would be no way back.

By the time substitute Jamie Bulpitt slammed in a 30-yard volley on the 60 minute mark Totton, currently fourth-to-bottom in the Southern League South and West, looked as if they would be grateful for the chance to concentrate on the league. The did manage a late rally with a goal on 86 minutes and a shot which left the crossbar rattling that had it gone in may have set up a tense finale to what had been an already entertaining game… and who knows Sholing may go all the way.

Sholings match report can be found here

Sholing Sports: A history

25 Sep

For the past year, or so I’ve been putting together a history of Sholing Sports Football Club. This project stemmed mainly from my curiosity about the side who in their time were one of Hampshire’s top amateur sides with several Hampshire Senior Cup titles and Russell Cotes Cup titles to their name as well as a number of Hampshire League championships. I’ve put this all together into a book which is available on Amazon for £2.75. The following is a brief extract about the club in the early1920s when it was known as Sholing Athletic and reveals a fascinating link between Sholing and Herbert Chapman’s famous Arsenal side.


In his revealing history of football in the area Bitterne Football A Glimpse at the Past  Ken Prior mentions that Athletic had a reputation as being a ‘nursery’ club with a number of players going on to better things. One Athletic player he mentions, Callaghan, went on to play for Merthyr Town, then in the football league, in the 1920s. Another, Sam Meston, joined Southampton from Athletic in 1922, before going on to play for Gillingham and Everton. One particular Athletic player though stands out head-and-shoulders among the Sholing alumni; Described in Chalk & Holley’s Alphabet of the Saints as “Without doubt one of the best full-backs to ever grace the Dell” Peartree-born Tom Parker joined Southampton in 1918 and distinguishing himself at the Saints subsequently joined Herbert Chapman’s Arsenal. Parker went on to captain the Arsenal side in their FA Cup final win of 1930 in addition to the League championship in 1931. Parker also holds the record for most consecutive appearances for Arsenal, playing an uninterrupted 172 games from April 1926 until December 1929.

The period following the first-world-war was a successful one for Athletic who in 1920 claimed the double of the Southampton Senior League title and the Southampton Senior Cup – the first of three consecutive victories in the latter tournament. Simultaneously the reserves weighed in by claiming the Junior Division ‘B’ championship. This success in the Southampton League led to a bigger stage and in 1920-21 the club entered, for the first time in their history, the Hampshire League. In their first season Athletic finished first place in the nine-team East Division – a division populated largely by reserve sides including the reserve sides of Salisbury City, Thornycrofts (Woolston), Andover, Winchester City and Basingstoke. This secured Athletic promotion to the county top flight and in their first season, 1921-22 Athletic acquitted themselves well finishing a respectable 6th out of 15.

The 1922-23 season saw Athletic go one better to finish 5th out of 17 in the league, but it was most memorable for the sides run in the Hampshire Senior Cup……

When did goalkeepers jerseys get so boring?

30 Aug

In the now annual summer ritual of new kit releases it is not unusual to see a full range of emotions on display; from eager expectation to full-blown anxiety. Fans queuing outside the club shop on the appointed release day may do so with a sense of Christmas-morning excitement, or with a sense of resignation that, like a bad haircut, it will only be a short time until it’s time for a new one. Any failure to respect established club traditions is also likely to result in much controversy – Southampton fans are still recovering from the trauma imposed by the brief hiatus of the clubs red and white stripes.

By contrast, even in an atmosphere as highly charged as this, the unveiling of the design for the goalkeeper’s kit is highly unlikely to stir anything more than fleeting interest. Perhaps this is because few fans will ever purchase one – aside from the sort of aspiring goalkeeper types usually seen milling around local 5-a-side centres – but perhaps this is because goalkeepers kits these days, have become so bland, so boring even, as to be virtually unnoticeable.

Today’s range of conservative keepers kits are a far cry from the flamboyant jerseys which predominated in the 1990s. This was the time when new printing technologies provided designers with greater possibilities and although there was an existing traditional grammar for goalkeepers kit – mainly of muted greens, blacks, greys and the occasional yellow – few clubs or fans, had any real preference, or investment in one colour combination, or pattern over another. With looser rules there was therefore greater freedom to innovate. Along with third kits, which also provided designers with a blank-slate unimpinged by a need to heed tradition, goalkeeper’s jerseys were in the vanguard of a headlong rush towards garishness.

The most famous exponent of this movement was Jorge Campos, the Mexican international goalkeeper who reputedly designed his own kits and whose acid-trip fluorescent jersey and shorts combo, were a highlight of World Cup USA ’94, and which make him a cult figure to this day. Such luridness had though been the norm and was embraced around the globe; from the highly popular explosion-in-a-paint factory look, as seen on Huddersfield Towns 93-94 ‘keepers shirt, which manages to combine pink, yellow, green, red and blue among other shades, to the Estonian national team’s 1996 design whose Aztec-like patterns were positively headache inducing. Special mention also deserves to go to Sunderland’s 1994-96 goalkeepers shirt which featured the outline of a pair of hands and which was, being charitable, the best thing that could be said about the kit.

Indeed many of the goalkeeper’s kits of the era were hideous monstrosities, therefore the eventual counter-reformation which saw a return to a more traditional plainness should surely be seen as a welcome development. But with even Jorge Campos’s successors in the Mexico goal now reverting to a more muted colour palate the passing of the era of garishness should instead be mourned.

Project Future Football: August Update

6 Aug

Once again, a big thank you to those of you who have already written an article for Project Future Football. For those of you who haven’t seen my earlier posts Project Future Football was an idea I had for bloggers and football fans to come together in collaborating in the creation of an anthology of writing. The topic of this anthology is football in the future.

This anthology will then be self-published made available on Amazon later this year. Any profits from this will be donated to the charity Street League.

My big worry was that there would not be enough articles, but so far there have been some great articles on the future of tickets, grass roots football and politics as well as holographic footballers and cyborg referees.

I am though looking for just a few more. You can write about any topic of your choice, just as long as it’s about football in the future. As a guide to length anything from 500 – 1500 words, along with a small bio about you and, if applicable, your blog.

I’d particularly welcome articles on women’s football, kit design and tactics.

As another way to get involved you can Tweet your prediction for football in the future using the hashtag #futurefootball. The best will make it into the anthology.

My email is

If you’d like to know more about Project Future Football, or Street league see here.


Football’s continuing participation crisis

6 Jul

Tuesday night and the text messages become more frantic; do you know anyone – anyone at all – who can show up for a game of 5-a-side tomorrow evening? Getting players is always a challenge at this time of year when people start taking their holidays, but is there something more at play, is this scramble for players indicative of a wider trend for declining participation in the game?

Once again the Active People Survey, commissioned and published by Sport England has revealed worrying figures for football. In the latest set of stats, covering the period April 2014 to March 2015, the number of people aged 16 and over participating in the sport at least once in the last 28 days showed a continued decline with the figure now standing at 2,660,000, down from the peak of 3,150,200 for the period October 2010 to October 2011. Equally worrying is the decline in participants who are members of a club; For football this has declined from 642,300 in the Active People survey covering Oct 2007 – Oct 2008 to 481,300 for the period April 2014 – March 2015 while, over the same time period, the numbers taking part in competition have plummeted from 962,500 to 676,300.

Active People graph

The stats themselves reveal little about the causes of this decline, but there are several explanations which have been in circulation including; changing working patterns, lower disposable income, lack of good facilities, and the impact of spells of inclement weather. Even the closure of pubs has been implicated – with good reason too, as many local pubs acted as hubs for organising teams and recruiting players (Interestingly the survey also shows a sharp decline for traditional pub games such as darts, pool and skittles – the number of people playing pool at least once in the last 28 days falling dramatically between October 2006 – October 2007 and April 2014 – March 2015 from 97,900 to just 39,400).

Traditional team sports requiring a large number of players and – quite often – a degree of organisation appear to have been similarly affected by declining numbers. Participants in rugby union fell from 267,800 in the first Active People survey, spanning October 2006 to October 2007, to 248,000 for the period April 2014 to March 2015 whilst for cricket numbers fell from 380,300 to 259,200. Contrastingly, over the same period, cycling – a relatively more individual sport -has enjoyed a dramatic increase in popularity from 3,554,800 taking part at least once a month to a current 3,817,400.

AP index

The stats though leave out as much as they reveal. Importantly, for football, the survey does not differentiate between 11-a-side and other forms such as 5-a-side and Futsal. This means it is not possible to chart the relative changes in the popularity of these different forms of the game and whether, for instance, a deeper decline in 11-a-side is not potentially masked by the popularity of 5-a-side. What is clear however, is that the ongoing participation crisis is biting deep into the grass-roots level of the game. Over a quarter of a million fewer players taking part in competitive football is enough to see long-established leagues wither and even fold, in turn causing the organisational infrastructure which makes, in particular, competitive 11-a-side possible to become further diminished. This can only make the challenges of providing improved facilities, flexibility, accessibility and affordability even greater and it is these challenges which need to be met if football is to halt its decline as a mass-participation sport.

The Wessex League Twitter League – Revisited for 2015

26 Jun

Firstly thanks goes to the person running the Brockenhurst FC account for giving me the idea to re-visit the Wessex League Twitter League which I produced just over a year ago in April 2014. As I did back then I have tracked down every Wessex League club on Twitter and recorded the number of followers. All 39 current Wessex League clubs are now on Twitter including the one exception from last time, Lymington Town, whose Twitter account currently has 286 followers.

In addition to this I’ve also recorded the number of tweets made by each account in order to discover which clubs have been most active on the platform – although it needs to be borne in mind that some clubs have been on Twitter for much longer than others whilst a few may have changed from one account to another.

The one noticeable thing from last time around is that with a very small handful of exceptions the number of Twitter followers has increased across the board. This should be heartening and is, in a lot of cases I’m sure, a reflection of the work put in by those who run the accounts.

Anyway, the top three in reverse order are:

3.) Brockenhurst – 1,900 Followers

The former champions slide back in the rankings, although they do manage to retain a spot on the podium with 500 more followers than Team Solent in fourth position. Brockenhurst are also the 10th most prolific tweeters in the Wessex League having made 2,369 tweets to date.

2.) Sholing – 2,307 Followers

Of the clubs featured last year Sholing have added the most followers on Twitter with an additional 919 Twitter users receiving Sholing updates in their timeline. Since the last time I compiled the list Sholing have of course won the FA Vase at Wembley which undoubtedly provided a boost in the clubs profile, but there does need to be mention of the sheer hard work that the club appear to have put into engagement; They also top the table for most prolific tweeters having made upwards of 11,300 tweets since joining Twitter in April 2012

1.) Salisbury – 6,248 Followers

A club which has had a tumultuous few years. After being thrown out of the Conference Premier due to financial issues and effectively dissolving the re-formed club finds itself now, for the first time, in the Wessex League. Salisbury, with a population of around 40,000, has more than a handful of football fans and the kind of interest generated by the involvement of footballer-turned-pundit Steve Claridge and his long-time friend journalist Ian Ridley (40,400 and 10,400 followers respectively – with Claridge being one of the few Wessex League personalities to sport a prestigious blue tick on their profile) serves to give the club a high Twitter profile.

Wessex Premier 2015

Wessex One 2015

Top 10 tweeters 2015

top 10 increase in followers  2015

1 Salisbury 6248
2 Sholing 2307
3 Brockenhurst 1900
4 Team Solent 1400
5 AFC Portchester 1261
6 Verwood Town 1201
7 Blackfield & Langley 1137
8 Newport (IOW) 1060
9 Horndean 978
10 Alton Town 884
11 Christchurch 857
12 Andover Town 855
13 Hythe & Dibden 783
14 Bournemouth 778
15 Fareham Town 728
16 Fleet Spurs 698
17 Romsey Town 696
18 Moneyfields 630
19 Folland Sports 599
20 Cowes Sports 597
21 Amesbury Town 544
22 Tadley Calleva 533
23 New Milton Town 523
24 Ringwood Town 500
25 Downton 471
26 Hamworthy United 460
27 US Portsmouth 434
28 Totton & Eling 425
29 Bemerton Heath Harlequins 403
30 AFC Stoneham 356
31 Pewsey Vale 342
32 East Cowes Vics 339
33 Portland United 336
34 Alresford Town 321
35 Whitchurch United 295
36 Andover New Street 295
37 Laverstock & Ford 291
38 Lymington Town 286
39 Fawley 123

Greece: The impact of the Economic Crisis on Football

19 Jun

As the Greek debt crisis continues to be played out to high drama involving international leaders one question is the impact the crisis has had on football. Just a decade ago Greek football was on a high; The national side surprised many to triumph at the European Championships in 2004 while in the domestic game attendances at matches were on an upward trajectory, helped, in part, by the formation of the Super League in 2006.

The financial crisis however, appears to have erased all traces of this progress. Unofficial figures from the website European Football Statistics show that, on average, Super League attendances have plummeted from a recent peak of around 7,600 in 2008-09 to around 3,100 for the season just completed.

Greek Football decline

One big reason for the decline is the fall from grace of one of Greece’s top sides, AEK Athens. In a parallel to the nations’ economic situation AEK were brought low by some questionable financial management, reportedly owing some 170 million Euros in taxes. Forced to sell off a large part of their first-team just to gain a licence to compete in the top flight at the start of the 2012-13 season the stay of execution was only a temporary one and AEK finished the season in second to last position.

Declaring bankruptcy the club elected to start afresh in the third tier. AEK have since rallied and, claiming the second-tier title, have just achieved promotion back to the Super League. Off-the-field the club are also advancing with plans for a new 32–34,000 capacity ground the Agia Sophia.

While the re-appearance of the well-supported AEK in the top flight is likely to prove a boost to the Super League’s attendance stats the deeper structural problems afflicting Greek clubs seem unlikely to dissipate anytime soon. This season alone has seen one club, Niki Volou, relegated from the Super League by the league’s disciplinary committee when, failing to pay its players, the club were unable to complete their final five matches while another Super League club, OFI Crete, who reportedly lost a total of 21 players due to the clubs failure to pay them, clung on to survival – at least in the short-term – by using youth players to shore up their side.

The fortunes of the national team are similarly looking bleak. The side are currently ranked 25th in the World by FIFA, having slid from 11th in 2012, and are currently lying bottom of their Euro 2016 qualifying group. With just two points from six games Greece sit two places below the Faroe Islands to whom they suffered a humiliating 1-0 home defeat in November.

Both the national side and club sides will be hoping that a resolution to the country’s economic problems can be reached, as it is only then that Greek football can begin the process of attempting to return to the heights of just a few years ago.


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